Premier League - QPR beat Wigan in six-pointer
The home side took the lead through Heidar Helguson’s 33rd-minute penalty, and they were 2-0 up at half-time thanks to a spectacular free-kick from Akos Buzsaky.
But Wigan pulled one back as Hugo Rodallega netted a wonderful effort of his own and, as the match opened up late on, Helguson missed a second spot-kick before Tommy Smith restored QPR’s two-goal advantage with an 81st-minute screamer.
It was only a second home league win of the season for QPR, but it was a vital one as they moved out of the relegation spots, leaving Wigan propping up the standings.
With both sides languishing in the drop zone at the start of play and in swirling conditions in West London, it was perhaps unsurprising that the first half was a nervous, scrappy affair.
Wigan actually started the brighter as QPR failed to get their passing going, the visitors going close twice from wide positions as first a Jordi Gomez free-kick was flicked wide by Steve Gohouri and then a Victor Moses run and cross flew across goal but beyond Rodallega.
DJ Campbell, handed a rare start up front, just failed to get his head on a clever ball by Joey Barton, himself returning from a three-match ban amidst his latest Twitter storm, with former Blackpool striker Campbell also scuffing wide after Gohouri was caught dithering by Jamie Mackie.
The match was still disjointed and uninspiring but QPR were clearly in control, and they went close twice more as livewire winger Shaun Wright-Phillips had a shot blocked, Buzsaky dipped a long-range effort just wide and Al-Habsi was again called into action from a Mackie effort.
Al-Habsi is often Wigan’s best player but he is just as frequently helpless when fronted by a quite woeful defence at times. And this sloppiness was again punished as, from a corner, James McCarthy inexplicably raised an arm to handle, referee Jon Moss well placed and immediately pointing to the spot.
Al-Habsi had saved three penalties this season - four after his later stop - but Helguson, who has now netted eight in his last 13 league matches, calmly stroked the spot-kick just inside the post with the Omani keeper guessing the right way but a hand-span short of keeping it out.
The ex-Bolton reserve made another fine save, from another Buzsaky long-ranger, but he was once more beaten by a set-piece on the stroke of half-time.
And it was some effort from Buzsaky too, who got his first career goal in the Premier League with a brilliant free-kick from some way out, sent in off both posts via the angle with the crossbar as Al-Habsi tried in vain to keep it out.
Predictably QPR sought to shut up shop early in the second half, sitting deep and looking for the odd counter attack as Wigan toiled to break them down.
Indeed, Paddy Kenny had little to do other than gather the odd daisy-cutter while Al-Habsi was once more forced into action by Buzsaky, this time courtesy of an audacious flick-and-volley combination by the Hungarian.
Past the hour mark Wigan’s passing seemed to have greater effect as they won a succession of set-pieces, including a free-kick that was somewhat controversially given as Maynor Figueroa went down easily 25 yards out.
Up stepped Rodallega with an effort to match Buzsaky’s earlier special, bending it over the wall and inside the top right corner with Kenny rooted to the spot.
It was only the Colombian’s second goal of the season and it gave Wigan sudden belief in a comeback, with QPR still sitting rather deep but looking more concerned than predatory.
But QPR had a brilliant chance to re-establish their two-goal lead when Moss pointed to the spot for a foul by Gary Caldwell on Helguson that clearly took place outside the box, the Scot tugging at the Icelander a good two yards ahead of the white line but their momentum taking both inside the area.
This time though penalty specialist Al-Habsi would not be beaten, tipping Helguson’s placed effort wide for a corner in his best stop of the match.
Suddenly the match took on the characteristics of a cup tie as both sides traded blows at will, Helguson inches away from a wonder-goal as his over-the-shoulder volley flashed just wide with Al-Habsi rooted to the spot, and Mackie smashing one inches over as the hosts exploited the gaps left by Wigan’s cavalier approach.
One such counter saw QPR eventually regain their two-goal advantage as Wright-Phillips raced away down the left before cutting it back to Smith: the half-time sub launched an unstoppable effort from 25 yards that flew into the top left despite the acrobatic leap of the ex-Bolton keeper.
Wigan pushed gamely for a late goal but QPR got everyone behind the ball aside from Wright-Phillips - his role simply to run it into the corners - and they were never truly threatened in the closing stages.
The Hoops are now on 20 points from 22 matches, two points clear of 18th spot, with Wigan three points shy of safety.